Category Archives: Sports Militaria
For the current 2017 Major League Baseball season, twenty four players will earn $21,000,000 or more to play the game. Of those, two pitchers; David Price, Boston Red Sox and Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers will earn $30m and $33m (respectively) to collect “outs” for their teams throughout the season (and post-season).
Being the huge baseball fan that I am, I do understand that the MLB season is gruelingly long at 162 games and half of them are on the road, visiting cities stretching across the United States and into Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Life on the road is difficult and has considerable impact on family life with all the time away. While the season typically starts in late March to early April, for the players, it actually begins in February with spring training. If the team makes it to postseason play, that means they are working from mid-February to late October.
Many athletes’ families do not live in the city in which they are playing, further adding to the separation challenges. Players routinely miss out on birthdays, anniversaries and other family gatherings. For roughly eight months of the year, these athletes are subjected to air travel (some aboard chartered team jets) and the nicest hotel rooms. While on road trips, team equipment managers pack and unpack their gear, ensure that their baggage is in their hotel rooms when they arrive and picked up when they depart the various cities.
During batting practice and pre-game warm-ups, fans arrive early for the chance at obtaining the autograph of their favorite players on a baseball card, ball or scorecard. Autograph hounds seek out the stars of the game to get as many items signed as possible, even hiring kids to obtain as many signatures of the game’s elite players as possible. Autographs of the stars command premium prices when sold on the market. Many of the stars understand this part of the business (yes, the game of baseball is a business) and choose only to sign at arranged events where they are paid fees, commanding thousands of dollars, further padding their multi-million dollar salaries.
By now, you are asking yourself, “what does this have to do with militaria or military collecting?” I ask that you give me a little latitude as I am getting to the heart of the subject.
As a member of the local aviation museum (which is one of the best in the nation), I occasionally attend functions that typically focus on the stars of military aviation. During these events, one or more figures make appearances where they interact with the audience, detailing or describing their escapades in aerial combat or flight operations in support of significant military historical events. The schedule typically follows the format of a presentation in the auditorium, followed by a question and answer session, then an opportunity for the “fans” to get an autograph.
Since I’ve been a member, I have had the opportunity to meet legendary veterans that were significant participants, authors of events that had considerable impact on the outcome of the war. From Marine Corps pilots of the Black Sheep squadron (VMF-214), “sled” (SR-71 Blackbird) drivers, Tuskegee Airmen, and countless Aces from WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars. The roster of historical figures is nothing short of impressive. While the queue of autograph seekers isn’t small at these events, it pales in comparison to those seeking signatures of the multi-million dollar ballplayers.
Is it fair to compare the two? I think it is when we consider the cost of service to our country, especially when one is deployed to a combat zone. The tour of duty isn’t limited to an eight-month season. The training is far more intense and exceedingly more difficult. While batting practice may have its risks (getting hit by a pitch or taking a foul off the foot or leg), ball players aren’t psychologically preparing to protect their own lives or that of their teammates.
Deployments are a far cry from the road trips of their Major League counterparts. Some are cooped up in cramped quarters aboard ship, have to sleep in fox holes, or seek shelter beneath a truck in the desert. Current soldiers, sailors and airmen can spend up to 16 months away from family with occasional access to phones or email for a momentary taste of home. During World War Two, some were in theater for years, on the front lines for months at a time with brief respites mixed in. Mail from home was only an occasional luxury, if at all.
The risks ball players face each time they step out onto the field are real – torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament ), rotator cuff tears, elbow ligament damage and in some rare cases, the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a wild pitch to the head. When compared to what our service men and women face – such as being shot; losing limbs, eyesight or hearing; and death – the multi millionaire athletes’ reality takes a significant backseat.
Readers might suggest that my comparisons are patently unfair. My response is that the comparison is meant to provide focus on how we the collectors, place value and emphasis on athletes (and actors, musicians, etc.) over those who have sacrificed so much more. While in the area of autograph collecting, signatures from well-known veterans often command high prices on the resale market, lesser known vets or common military personalities get no attention.
I used to obtain and collect signatures of ball players and amassed quite a collection. Unfortunately, most of the signatures were from prospects who never truly panned out, rendering the collection to more of a humble status in its value. I did manage to obtain some choice stars and hall of fame players. But to me, these pale in comparison to the other more significant inscriptions that I have obtained since I started focusing on veterans.
I doubt that most of the signatures have much in the way of monetary value to autograph collectors, but to me, they are priceless mementos of personal encounters with men who have “been there.” My collection contains autographs from 32 Medal of Honor recipients, two World War II Marine Corps Aces, several WWII, Korean and Vietnam war Navy Cross recipients, several silver star recipients, many prisoners of war and members of the famed “Easy” company (Band of Brothers) veterans and many more.
The personal sacrifices made by these men easily overshadow any significant achievement or career milestone attained by the greatest Hall of Fame baseball player…unless that player also happens to be a combat veteran (my collection contains a few of those signatures as well).
I didn’t intend for this posting to be a rant against ballplayers or those who enjoy collecting their autographs. My goal was purely to call attention to the value of those who willingly raise their right hand, swearing to protect this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic and then proceed to do that very thing. Serving in the military tends to be a very thankless job and when the service member finally hangs up their uniform, there are no invites to attend any All Star weekends for autograph signing sessions.
I surrender my soapbox.
In part I of this series, I focused my attention on a transaction (hopefully the only one) between the National World War II Museum and Bands for Arms, discussing the handling of artifacts that had been donated to the museum by individuals. Part I is the catalyst for this series, but today’s could stand on it’s own.
With that ordeal between those two entities and the militaria collector community, it is debatable as to whether the collectors are actually happy with the results. While the artifacts in question were decided (by the museum staffer) to not have been World War II pieces, that doesn’t equate to them not being historically significant or valuable to militaria collectors.
In other areas of collecting, destroying an historic artifact for the sum of it’s parts is nothing new. Even within the area of military collecting it is still practiced — stripping uniforms of decorations, patches, buttons, etc. — yet it is frowned upon by purists.
Being a huge fan of major and minor league baseball, I dabbled in this arena of collecting, including baseball cards. My financial resources were limited so I had to collect within my means, focusing on certain aspects rather than any and all cards. I recall some card manufacturers in the 1990s launched into a practice of adding “insert” or special cards that were limited in production into their card sets making them rare and highly desirable among collectors. As the fervor increased with each new series or product line, so did the drive to make the insert cards more significant and create increased demand. This translated into significant revenue generation for the card companies.
I started to get disenchanted with sports cards at the point where they began destroying pieces of history for profit. Several card companies were acquiring rare artifacts (specifically, bats and uniforms) that were attributed to legendary ball players, cutting them into ¾-inch square pieces and mounting these into special insert cards. Imagine shredding a game-worn Babe Ruth jersey such as a 1920 Yankees road uniform top – which ultimately sold for $4,4m – into a few hundred little pieces. It has been done… several times.
Baseball players do wear a number of uniforms throughout a season – multiples of both home and road. Considering the typically lengthy Hall-of-Fame careers, these stars will don a considerable number of uniforms. For combat veterans who only served during a conflict, their uniform count will be significantly less. Veterans of World War II often returned with just the dress uniform they were wearing. When the war was over, these veterans either disposed of their military garb or stowed it away in the closet or attic.
To reiterate, militaria collectors do not take issue with veterans’ (or their families) decisions to donate their own uniforms to companies like Bands for Arms. What is difficult to contend with is the loss of the military heritage and connection to individual history through these uniforms. Would anyone imagine doing the same thing with a uniform from Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant John Basilone?
Would the band buyers rush to purchase a bracelet made from Major Richard Winters (of “Band of Brothers” fame) uniform? I’d imagine that bracelets made from these high-profile veterans would necessitate a boosted sale price, which would lead to a considerable amount of funds for the museum’s upkeep. But at what cost?
After spending more than two decades working in some capacity in a career field in the Internet industry, I have gained a considerable amount of understanding of user behaviors and tendencies. One of the most challenging user behaviors (for online content providers) to overcome is how to motivate them to actually read written content.
Countless usability studies conducted over the last decade (see UXMyths.com’s article: Myth #1: People read on the web) reveal that internet users seldom read text on the computer, tablet or smart phone screen. News media and some shady business tend to rely on this fact spending more effort on hooking audiences with headlines or product names (and photos) with the idea that the facts and details will be left unread.
Another facet of audiences not reading text is the unintended consequences. I bet this has happened to most, if not all of my readers. You search Google for an item that you want or need and hundreds of results are displayed. You see scroll through the countless listings, skimming through each blurb (abbreviated description) until you find the one that interests you the most. In a matter of seconds, confirming that the item meets your approval, credit card in hand, you quickly walk through the buying process and click the “purchase” button. After several days of tracking the shipment, it finally arrives. Excited, you tear into the box, rifle through the packaging to get hold of your eagerly anticipated item. Within a few milliseconds you discover that a mistake has been made and frustration begins to build. After a 20-minute search through your 85 gigabytes of emails, you find the order confirmation and you are ready to contact the company to confront them on their mistake. Then you realize that you are the one who didn’t read the entire product description. Sound familiar?
In the last few days as I was looking through my eBay searches, I noticed a listing for a U.S. Special Services WWII-era baseball. The listing seemed to be fairly straight forward and the $22.00 opening bid amount was consistent with what these balls routinely sell for ($20-$40), dependent upon whether they are Army, Navy or USMC variations. When I clicked on the link to view the entire auction, I noticed that the seller had included some contextual images of the ball along with other items that were not part of the auction.
The description, in part reads:
This auction is for one (1) baseball, the gloves are shown for reference only. These balls where found in an old canvas US Army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown. One glove is dated 1945 and stamped US Army, and the other glove is stamped special services US Army. The special services where greatly different in WW2 than they are today, back then they where in charge of recreation, and other “special items” for the troops. You will receive the ball pictured alone in the pics.
I clicked through the series of photos that showed the canvas bucket filled with baseballs and three WWII-era baseball gloves. Then, I looked at the current bid amount and my jaw hit the floor. With four days left for the auction, the current bid (of five bids from four bidders) was $275.00! How could the bids be so exorbitant; so high for a single, common WWII baseball? I re-read the description and paid close attention to the images of the ball. There was absolutely nothing that out of the ordinary about this ball. Then, it occurred to me that the bidders failed to read the full text of the auction or the auction title. When the auction closes and the highest bidder pays for the auction, he will eagerly anticipate the arrival of the ball, the canvas bucket, three vintage gloves and several other baseballs. When the diminutive package arrives, the reality will set in along with a massive pile of anger and frustration. The auction winner will either blast the seller for deception or feel like a complete idiot for not reading the auction description.
With two days left (at the time of writing this article), there are five bidders that have placed 10 bids. The current highest bid is $535.00 for an ordinary (lone) WWII baseball that is now, $490.00 overvalued.
A costly lesson is about to be learned.